BWN Sports Extra: Danny Green’s Journey From Janitor to NBA Finals Hero

Green is still learning how to high five

SAN ANTONIO—Six months ago, San Antonio Spurs shooting guard Danny Green had never even heard of basketball.  The Babylon, New York native had grown up in a family where hard work was the driving force, and young Danny had spent his childhood and teen years working on a wood-chopping farm.  It was there that Green developed the form and upper body strength that would propel him to become the greatest three-point artist in NBA Finals history, delivering freshly split chunks of hickory from the ground into neat piles in the trailers of 18-wheelers, to be delivered to local wood stores.

“I used to load a dozen trailers a day by myself,” Green recalls, “A job that would take five men to do, I could finish by myself in half the time.  I was pretty efficient.”

When Green, having been raised Amish, came of age and embarked on the traditional Rumspringa, an Amish tradition where young men and women go out into the world to determine their lives’ directions, he travelled by foot across the country, stopping in towns and cities along the way, often times helping right the wrongs that were being inflicted upon those who were unable to help themselves.  Eventually, he ended up in San Antonio.

“I was feeling pretty conflicted,” Green says, “I had grown up knowing nothing beyond hard work.  But none of the jobs I was able to get, from data analyst at a social media company to CEO of a small tech startup, involved anything other than sitting at a computer all day.  I had no direction, and I was feeling homesick.”

But a chance meeting with a man in a coffee shop set Green on a course that would eventually change his life.  The man looked at the 6’6” Green and simply asked if he was a basketball player.

“I had no idea what he was talking about,” Green recalls, “But I was intrigued.  I eventually learned about the Spurs, and went to the AT&T Center to see about getting a job.”

Because he had never even touched a basketball before, Green wasn’t given a chance to try out for a roster spot.  But a bulletin board in the lobby had a job announcement for a janitorial opening at the arena.  Green applied for the position immediately.  Within weeks, he had moved to the top of the janitorial staff.

“I worked nights, usually by myself,” Green recalls, “I could mop the whole arena in under an hour, and then I would try to find other things to keep busy.  One evening I noticed a rack of balls had been left on the gym floor.”

By then Green had seen the players shooting baskets, but he had never had the opportunity to try himself.  The one thing he had noticed is how similar their shooting motions were to the wood-delivery methods of his youth.

“I picked up a ball and let it fly,” Green says, “And it went straight in, nothing but net.”

Popovich doing his best not to be a dick

Little did Green know that he was being observed.  Spurs Head Coach Greg Popovich was working late that night, preparing for the season’s final push.  The Spurs were in the midst of an impressive season, leading the Western Conference in wins and favorites to make the finals, where he knew they would meet the defending champion Miami Heat.  Popovich knew his team was one piece short of truly being a viable challenger to the throne.  He needed a long-range threat.

“I’m standing in the darkness, watching this kid,” Popovich recalls, surly-ly, “And he makes literally a hundred three pointers in a row, some from half court.  He never gets tired.  Plus, he’s tall and black.  To be a successful basketball player, one must possess at least three of five attributes.  Be tall, be black, shoot well, dress to the nines and control your spending.  This guy already had the first three.  It was a no-brainer.”

Popovich watched quietly for a while, then decided to approach Green, still dressed in his janitorial overalls.  But Green, afraid he would be in trouble for shooting without permission, ran away into the darkness.  Worried that he would never find the mysterious shooter, Popovich visited the janitor’s office at the arena, and learned Green’s name.  But Green didn’t show up for work the next day.  Nor the next.  Believing he was already fired anyway, Green had decided to return to New York, this time travelling by bus.

“I had made a little money mopping floors,” Green says, “Plus I received a very handsome separation package from the tech startup, so I bought a bus ticket.  I went to bed early, ready to leave the next day.  But when I opened my front door to leave the next morning, there stood Pop.”

For the next few hours Popovich slowly convinced Green to join the team.  By the end of the day, Green had torn up his bus ticket and signed a contract with the Spurs to play shooting guard.  At seven o’clock that night, he was suiting up for his first professional basketball game.  It was game one of the Spurs’ first round series against the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2013 NBA Playoffs.  Now, two months into his NBA career, Danny Green has set the record for the most three-point shots made in an NBA Finals series.  And he has at least one more game to add to the record.

“It’s actually been pretty easy,” Green admits, “It’s way easier than tossing chunks of hickory.   But at least it’s good, physical work.  Plus, nowhere in my contract does in say I have to speak to Tony Parker outside of work.  You can’t beat that.”

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